My son, my beautiful sweetheart, who struggles with perspective taking, sensory integration, and social language may never realize that his father tried to teach him dysregulation, not to share, not to empathize with and take care of others, even literal neighbors. He may never know that his dad tried to deny him educational services that were tailored to his needs, because his dad found his needs personally insulting and degrading.
Worse, my brave, strong, glorious daughter may have to look at me as say, “If you knew how awful my dad was, why did you let me go? If you knew how bad it was, why didn’t you save me? Why did you let me have this trauma?”
And I will cry and stutter that I spent much time while she was away crying and wringing my hands that I had to let her go. That I couldn’t tell her negative things about her father. That I told others, many others, how scared I was of her dad. I showed them pictures. I gave them stories. I let my voice shake to tell adults who mattered the utter truth. I left questions open when I had no proof, only strong suspicions and tales of what he’d done to adults and was likely to do to children. How he couldn’t take care of himself much less tiny humans. I railed. I tried. I wept.
But if I had disallowed her to take the monthly three-day or annual two-week visits, I would have lost my majority parenting time and custody. I would have looked bad for my staunch protection. I could have ended up in jail. For defending her and her brother. For being adamant about women and mother’s rights in the face of a very skilled, manipulative, and dangerous gaslighter.
I will someday, after she asks, have to tell my grown daughter how I knew that she felt sad, angry, abandoned, and creeped out by being at her dad’s place. She won’t remember that her first night without mommy’s milk and care and love and snuggles and know-how and stability and comfort was spent alone in the dark where her dad had plunked her, pleased that he had asserted control. She won’t remember when it was that she shifted from having fewer tantrums than her autistic brother to screaming and raging at the world, because it was the only way she had to attempt to get her needs met in her dad’s care. She won’t remember that she came home with tangled hair and clothing two sizes too small, until I let her cut it short to avoid the painful knots in her beautiful curls.
She will not recall when she went from being comfortable in her own skin to anxious about pooping on the potty, mysteriously at the same time that her dad fed her so much starch that she was constipated and he was so uncomfortable with her bottom that he taught her to call her genitals “front butt” and declined to help apply yeast cream to rashes or to help the kids wipe after toileting. That his response to her fear was to read her a book about whiny chidlren being eaten by monsters. She will not recall that there were times that she did not want to leave me but she had no choice but to put on a fierce persona and be more attached to her brother than to mommy who had to encourage her to go with her dad. She will not have a memory of when she learned that adults, not even mommy, are always there to help and protect you.
My son will not understand that I did manage to almost completely protect him for the first three years of his life before he was alone with his father, who may share some of his nuero-atypical preferences against perspective-taking, impulse control, and social cues. My son will not understand that his dad preferred him, treated him marginally better, and was not as fully able to destroy his sense of secure attachment to me. He won’t remember that his dad couldn’t really take care of a girl or a child as young as his sister when they were forced to spend time away from me. That his dad never figured out how to care for children well, especially his sister. That his dad was and is ill, with more diagnoses than the rest of us carry, never able to maintain focus on others despite flickers of love.
How is our system such that I have shown attorneys, social workers, judges, family therapists, family court commissioners, guardians ad litem, and pediatricians the pictures of my babies’ astounding, sad, horrific conditions after their dads care while they glumly admit that he will continue to be left alone with my children???
He’s damaging my babies and he’s nowhere near the line of losing parental rights in our system.
He has hurt adults. He can’t even take care of himself. He is hurting my babies. He can’t teach them how to be whole in the world because he can’t do it for himself.
I have told the stories. I have mentioned how many other adults could testify to how their dad has treated other adults badly and dangerously. They know he has seriously mental health issues. They know that he can’t maintain even work relationships and live up to the clear, formal expectations of employers. But they are afraid of treading on his rights as a father; afraid of preferring an experienced, expert mother with an excellent track record (except being duped by the same clever dude who sometimes appears to have remorse, money, sanity, and power over the justice professionals).
How is the system leaving my kids and myself to be trampled rather than him? How is the system allowing my children to be damaged? How do they not see the obvious, blatant manipulation, power grabs, and gaslighting? He is smart and calculated and vicious and capable of appearing charming. So the entire sentiment of our legal and social system seems to be,
“Well, he’s still their dad.”
Even as they sense that he’s probably not great. Something is a little bit off here. Everybody knows it’s pretty bad. But none of the adults who have been trampled by this man, including me, have pressed charges at the correct moment. And even if he was accused and convicted of something, still he would retain parental rights and likely unsupervised parenting time. Because,
“Well, he’s still their dad.”
So someday, after straining myself to warn everyone possible about how terrible and dangerous and unhinged he is, I will still have to help my daughter recover from trauma. I will honor her wounds and anger issues and more tears will slide down my cheeks as I describe to her how sorry I am that I was not allowed to protect her from her dad’s dysfunction. How I appeared to encourage her to go with a happy face. That I reminded her always of the importance of empathy and generosity, even though they were used against her by her dad.
Someday my daughter will ask me why I didn’t protect her and I will have to answer. I will not spare our system that doesn’t listen to mothers and women in the face of a horrible man.